Essays from The Education of a Bengali Gentleman –
Do Somethings to Improve the World
Learn to live a life of courage and purpose. Don’t let fear or inhibition hold you back. Your actions, however small and insignificant, count. It all adds up. Lets say, like me you believe in the power of prayer. There is an ancient Sanskrit prayer you can recite to bring peace, joy and happiness to everyone, especially for the poor and distressed. The prayer also inspires you to use your own words, thoughts and actions to help to bring about that peace, joy and happiness. Have the courage to recite the prayer and teach it to the next person you meet and convince them to practice the prayer regularly. Here is the text of that Sanskrit prayer – “Lokah samastha sukhenu bhabantu.” (I pray for peace, joy and happiness for all the people all over the world. I pray that my words, thoughts and actions contribute towards that peace, joy and happiness.)
It takes only a little bit of courage when you are convinced about the purpose of your actions. At one time I was working out regularly trying to participate in the Chicago Marathon to raise money for a charitable organization, Asha For Education, that sponsors free schools for the poor and oppressed in India. I needed to find friends who would sponsor me to run in the marathon; $1 for every one of the twenty six miles. Rather than talk to friends at work or social gatherings, I decided to host a wine and cheese open house at my home with the express purpose of sharing the work of Asha For Education and asking for sponsors. It would be easy to fit fifty people in my home spread out between the living room, the eat in kitchen, the den, and my wife’s home office. I sent out the evites with some apprehension. I didn’t have to wait long before the acceptances started showing up in my inbox. The gathering was a success in many ways. I had invited the leadership of the local chapter to make the Asha For Education presentation. They were overwhelmed by the response from my friends and colleagues and had a whole list of folks they could persuade to join the race. I was able to reach my sponsorship goal very comfortably.
Some years later when my daughter was going to high school she decided to join a club that was part of a not-for-profit charity group Expanding Learning who were raising money to support a summer exchange program for girls in Africa. The girls were given the opportunity to attend a summer camp in the US where they learnt the foundations of launching an indigenous business. They also learnt about women’s health and hygiene, and contraceptives, all topics that were taboo back in their home countries. In exchange the girls ran similar workshops when they returned home and with help from American sponsors launched indigenous businesses. One year my daughter and her high school club decided to host a garage sale to raise money for the exchange program. They needed a family willing to give up their garage to store the donations from all their friends and their families. They also needed a family willing to host the garage sale. We opened our hearts, the garage doors and the driveway and front yard. For the next month we parked on the street. Everyday we had people drop off their donations, big and small. I created and updated a spreadsheet for the inventory. My wife, daughter, her friends, and I labelled items with red, yellow, green, brown stickers denoting their asking price. On the day of the garage sale we passed out cookies and lemonade. By the end of the day the girls had grossed $400!
I was lucky to have parents who could afford to send me to St. Xavier’s School, Sahibganj. Eventually my parents made a choice to move to and work as volunteers at the school. The prestigious English medium school decided to launch a Hindi medium school for the economically challenged and socially marginalized families in and around Sahibganj. Students could attend a St. Xavier’s School almost for free. SOXA, the alumni association of St. Xavier’s English medium school, began to raise funds to support the families and students of St. Xavier’s Hindi medium school. When my parents passed away, I started to fund a scholarship in their memory to support students of the Hindi medium school. Now when every US dollar is worth nearly Indian Rs. 74, my donation of US $1,000 translates to roughly Rs. 75,000. At an average expense of Rs. 5,000 per student per year, fifteen students will go to school and a brighter future in the memory of my loving parents.
Prayer and action can go along way to make a difference to our world. Don’t let your inhibitions hold you back. Take the first tiny steps to making the world a better place. It will make you feel a whole lot better and BIGGER! Just because you cannot change the world, don’t let it stop you from showing some courage to work to change your friends and family. There are always somethings you can do, however inconspicuous, to change our world.